Quick: If Weezer, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Nine Inch Nails had a baby, what would it be?
The Pixies, of course.
Well, it may not be the most apt of comparisons, but it’s difficult to pinpoint just what the band sounds like now. It certainly isn’t the same band that released “Where Is My Mind?” in ’88.
Since 1991’s Trompe le Monde, the Pixies have released a total of three singles: “Bam Thwok”(cut from the Shrek 2 soundtrack), a Warren Zevon cover, and this August’s admittedly catchy “Bagboy.” Solidifying the band’s apparent loss of viability, founder and bassist Kim Deal left the group in June. So news of the release of a brand-new EP on Sept. 3 was bound to incite some unease in the hearts of longtime Pixies fans. And upon first play, it would prove to incite a feeling a little more severe: disappointment.
EP1 opens with “Andro Queen,” which would call to mind nice adjectives like “sedate” and “glistening” if we didn’t have to remind ourselves that these are the same guys who made the heady, provocative Surfer Rosa. More unsettling are the velvety, reverb-drenched vocals from veteran vocalist Black Francis— did he swallow his edge? Then there’s “Indie Cindy,” which veers infinitesimally closer to the quintessential Pixies sound, but still falls short. And did Francis really just broadcast his position as “the burgermeister of purgatory?”
The EP culled a dazzling 1.0 on Pitchfork. Writer Jayson Greene cited the band’s bad songwriting, but— more notably—he emphasized the blow the album dealt to him personally. After having indulged in riveting songs like “Hey” for years, he felt that the band had betrayed him with the new release.
Poor songwriting aside, at the heart of the scorching feedback is our fear of change. Listening to the EP, we might be confused by the easiness of the vocals or the smoothness of the instrumentation, but what really vexes us is that each song lacks the character that made the Pixies so inimitable.
The band maintained a consistent, unique, and promptly familiar sound from 1987’s Come On Pilgrim through Trompe le Monde four years later. It’s a sound that’s universally adored within the rock and roll world for its jagged hooks, its dynamism, its shifts from complacency to unrestraint and back. The Pixies was one of the chief groups to motivate the alternative rock boom in the early 1990s, so it’s understandable that the majority of fans and critics hate its new sound, if there even is one unifying sound. Fans possess the frustrating tendency to want to preserve their beloved idols in their finest moments.
And could we really expect much self-preservation from a band whose recording hiatus lasted 20 years? The only thing keeping us talking about the Pixies at all was the publicity surrounding Kim Deal’s departure. When a band makes a comeback after two decades of nothing, without a founding member, the chances that the release will equal previous releases are next to none. The Pixies once captured the essence of the alternative scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but we can hardly expect them to do the same now.
Not to imply that we have to love the new release or even appreciate it. Black Francis said of “Indie Cindy” that the song relays to fans, “I don’t know if you’ll accept me; I don’t know if I accept you. But we have this memory. Can we do it again?” A decent gesture, but the consensus is that we can’t do it again. Still, if we unchain the new release from the band’s history, we might find it a little easier to accept—or we can at least return to singing “Hey” as fervently as before.